Do you own your story?
We all have parts of our story that are a little more difficult to own up to than others. And, since, as humans, we are wired to avoid pain, we often end up locking those portions of our tale up in a closet somewhere, never to see the light of day again.
But, if we decide to let them out into the light, and maybe even give them a little cuddle and say, “I get you” — something quite magical occurs.
What it comes down to is this: You can own your story, or your story will own you. Either way, you can’t re-write the past, but you can influence the next chapter.
For most of my life, I was the Good Girl, the one who gets good grades and stars in the school play and dates the Nice Boy. She goes to college and is President of Everything and gets into PA school on her first try. She gets an amazing job right out of the gate, one where she makes a difference and saves lives. She has a child and buys a house and gets married (in that order.)
She. Has. It. All.
I mean, by all accounts, that’s a pretty good story…right?
Yeah I know, it’s never that simple. Because as I look back now, in even this truncated telling, I can see the beginnings of the cracks that eventually grew into the chasms that broke apart my life.
As happens in life sometimes, shit somehow went sideways. You know how some people take a zig when they should have taken a zag? And then they make a slight correction and life moves right along its merry way? Well, that didn’t happen to me. I missed the turn completely and went right off the motherfucking edge.
In hindsight, I see my biggest mistake was not having a bone-deep belief in myself, or maybe I just didn't have a bone-deep belief in anything. I doubted. I went along. I was practical. And worst, I ignored the quiet, but insistent voice in my head (my voice) that tried to steer me clear — “Jenn, what the fuck are you doing? Do you even want to go to college?” (I didn’t. I wanted to travel.) “Do you actually like science?” (It’s ok.) “Do you really want to be President of Toastmasters, Science Club, your PA class, the national student PA association???” (Nope. I thought that I was supposed to.) “Do you want to be a Physician Assistant?” (Kinda. It’s a secure job that pays well, and I get to help people.)
What I needed was to honor that still small voice inside me.
Because, you see, I was really good at getting along, figuring out what different people wanted and giving them exactly that. I replaced purpose with perfectionism, and substituted involvement for investment. These gave me focus and drive, but didn’t offer connection or engagement.
Because getting along doesn’t lead to fulfillment; it can’t lead to fulfillment. How can you fulfill a desire that’s never been expressed? How can your life have meaning if your choices don’t reflect what you mean?
I liked being a PA; there were things I even loved about it — the diagnostic challenges, the fast-paced environment of an Emergency Room, being of service, saving lives — but the job itself didn’t fit me. I always felt like something was missing in my work. Add in 12-14 hour shifts, the ever-increasing needs of my child, the demands of my marriage…and things got complicated.
It was time to make a change. I left the ER for a different PA position. It was much less challenging. I had my own office. I was never on call, working evenings or weekends was completely voluntary. The hours were better, the pay was much better: I actually made more while working less. And I was absolutely fucking miserable. I was drained physically, emotionally, spiritually. I was disengaged from everything. I had also weathered some pretty nasty storms, most notably, surviving sexual assault and torture (you can read more here.)
My Good Girl life was going off the rails. But I was determined to write a new chapter for myself.
Here’s where I started: I challenged the premise of the story.
Maybe I wasn’t the Good Girl. Maybe I was an Original, an Adventurer, a Victim, a Rebel…
I left the PA profession, not knowing where I was headed, but understanding that I needed to devote some serious time and energy to healing myself. I think I handled it pretty well. (If “well” could take the form of feeling sorry for myself, and repeatedly asking, whyyyy meeee?)
In my mind, from a karmic standpoint, I had done everything right. I chaired non-profit events and gave freely of my time and money. I put my needs behind those of my husband and child. I was kind. I worked on self-improvement. I helped people from the heart.
So, why the fuck was everything so wrong?
Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is what I had been asking for everyday.
As part of my morning ritual, I had asked repeatedly to be guided to that which would help me grow into my best self so that I could be of the most service to other women. I certainly never expected this to be gifted to me in the form of such confusion, such loss.
It took me nearly three years to comprehend that everything was happening for my greater good. I was being pulled and stretched and expanded beyond belief so I could become more awake, stronger, and even more aligned with my soul’s purpose. And, once I finally helped myself, I was in a position to help even more people. The Universe was carving out a path for me. Pain and loss are understandably good teachers. I have the equivalent of a doctoral degree in crafting a life. And, while I was physically (and mentally) unable to work for several years, that was actually quite humbling. And, it gave me the space to know that I really, really, really want to help other women - and be my own boss. It also gave me crystal clarity on how I want to show up in the world and how I want to serve.
Sharing this part of my story publicly is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. As a matter of fact, I have procrastinated, stared at blank screens, wrote and re-wrote more times than I care to admit. But, that just tells me how important it is to share. We live in a society where everybody puts up their highlight reels on social media. Our darkness stays hidden. We suffer alone.
When we bring our darkness into the light, pure magic happens. We heal. We give others permission to fail fantastically. We inspire them to own the parts of their story that they may feel shame around.
Brené Brown (who, you might remember, I absolutely adore) says, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” Amen, sister. I had let mine define me for a little too long. But, stepping into full ownership, I feel empowered.
This time around, as I write my brave new ending and build a business that is completely aligned with my purpose, I’ve decided to re-define success. It matters not how many zeroes are in the revenue numbers on the balance sheet at the end of the day. Instead, it matters how many hearts are touched, how many lives are changed, and how much creative fire flows.
Maybe you are reading this and see a reflection of a part of your own story inside of mine. Maybe today is the day you shift the perception and, instead of feeling shame around it, you own it as part of your truth. You don’t have to share it publicly (unless you want to... it feels kind of badass, actually). But just allow acknowledgement for the hidden gifts within... for the sake of your own healing.
You are beautiful and magical and perfect, especially because of your flaws. Those cracks are what let the light in.